Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Stranger In Paradise
I saw an old friend of mine yesterday. At one time an old boss. It was very interesting. She was part of an effort to show the work of an artist who was getting the support of a nearby gallery. The artist's work was everywhere. The nature of the work was in some ways what one expects if one is to be an artist: obsessive.
What was interesting to me was two-fold. This was my old boss. Someone who was a good boss, and had my best interest at heart. Best of intentions. Maybe even right. Just not right for me. Not the first time someone had plans for me that put being an artist a distant second to a career that was kind of like art that would give me financial security. A mentor/professor in college wanted me to be a museum world person; conservator/curator sort of thing full-time and a painter on the side. I transfered. Needless to say this was the same. Be a graphics artist during the day; artist in your spare time. Problem is graphics, like architecture, is not just inside the lines, it is draining work that demands long hours. I quit, of course. Would rather be poor and live under a bridge. Would rather risk losing approval(affection-place-belonging) to be true, salvage the little bit of integrity and honor leftover critical to being an artist.
The reason I mention all this was that my boss never understood how I could be so ungrateful to blow off her generosity, the life-saving opportunity she gave me. How could I chew off my paw to be free? The professor never understood or forgave me either. But here, right in the middle of my old bosses life was a less polished version of me, I suppose, this strange guy making strange sculptures because it was his life. It was all he could do. My problem, of course, was that I could do these other things. My father was the same way, always trying to figure out what I could do with my talents other than be an artist. He still does after all these years. First it was architecture since I was good with numbers; then it was illustration because I liked writing; then it was interior design because I liked fixing up my home; etc, etc, etc. The difference here was that this guy was a vet, and really wasn't suited to be anything but an artist, socially, mentally, or careerwise.
He was what people call an Outsider. Outsider Artist. Outsider Art. Untrained, untutored, uniformed, unaffiliated, unpedigreed, uninfluenced, un-fucked-with. That is sort of what that means. Outsider. Outsider Artist.
To me that is what every artist wants to be. Has to be. Free. They put up with the training, tutoring, informing, affiliating, influencing, fucking-with, so that they can get permission to be an artist. This guy, and other outsider artists, generally come late to the game, without all the crap. They didn't choose it young and therefore they didn't have to go through the "proper channels." Everybody knows you can't teach art, but they still try. The irony is, of course, if you can't teach it, then what's going on in art schools: doesn't it occur to just about everybody that maybe they are doing something contrary, oppositional, messed up? Making something happen that will make being an artist impossible. Every artist is self-taught(since you can't teach it) but maybe art school does something worse. Something destructive, maybe permanently damaging. I always found it interesting that RISD 's most successful grads NEVER graduated; they always dropped out. You have to consider yourself lucky if you have gotten to be an artist without someone trying to mess with you.
And this is what really pisses me off. Me and other artists who were forced a million times to jump through hoops just so we could make stuff, make art, whatever, just wanting that freedom. When people sort of ou and ah about "outsider" artists. What? You're going to make a fuss about someone who didn't jump through YOUR hoops. Huh? It's one of those lose/lose things. The same people that gush about some guy who is untrained(self-taught) are the SAME ones that tell you that you HAVE to have the training, LEARN technique, LEARN to draw, LEARN art history, etc.(To RISD's credit, and no one but me seems to appreciate it, they didn't try to teach much of that stuff.)
Which gets me to my next point. Insider Outsider. As far as I am concerned, I don't care if you're Brice Marden(the ultimate insider); every, EVERY, artist is an outsider. By definition. Think about it: originality is the benchmark of art. Originality. In other words, unique, in other works DIFFERENT! Original is by definition different. Different: outsider. Same thing.
Artists have to be different every day to distinguish themselves. From cradle to grave. Insiders on the other hand are all the same, they have to be, they want to be, and that is not the artist. I don't care if you went to art school and have a PHD(you still taught yourself!). Some artists even want to be insiders. Not going to happen. If you an artist, you're not the same. If you're not the same; you're on the outside. Artist: Outsider. Enough said.